Debunking the myths around the pressure practice of reflexology
For those not clued up, reflexology is based on the idea that applying different pressures to the feet (or hands) can give an insight into the workings of bodily systems and organs.
Essentially it acts like a map, with various body parts responding to different pressure points on the feet.
According to the practice, the left foot corresponds to the organs found on the left side of the body and the right foot to the organs on the other side.
There are a number of theories as to how reflexology works, from nerve impulse theories to the idea that pain can be reduced through touch.
While some studies have suggested potential benefits, a lack of extensive scientific research has often left people questioning whether it actually works.
Susan Birbeck, a qualified reflexologist, spoke to Metro.co.uk about the ancient practice – helping to dispel some of the myths around it, once and for all.
What are the reflexology myths?
Myth 1: Reflexology can cure diseases or diagnose
Perhaps the most important thing to take away from the alternative therapy is that professional reflexologists do not claim to cure or diagnose medical conditions.
‘Obviously we are not allowed to diagnose things,’ Susan says, ‘but you can tell when things are not right.
‘For example, people have abdominal issues, the reflex point might feel a bit tender.’
While reflexology cannot be used as a substitute for medicine, it can be used alongside treatments.
Studies have previously shown possible benefits of reflexology, particularly in reducing pain, enhancing relaxation as well as helping with anxiety and depression.
Myth 2: Reflexology is a fad
Modern reflexology is based on an ancient form of therapy. There’s even evidence to suggest it was being used in China as far back as 2330 B.C.
So it certainly isn’t a modern wellness fad.
Myth 3: It’s not suitable for children
‘Babies can have reflexology as well – I do it on my grandson actually,’ Susan says.
‘He loves it and it relaxes him. Obviously we don’t go as deep on a child but you can use it for calming babies, or if they have a problem, but we need to get the “ok” from the GP, because we are not doctors.’
Myth 4: It can’t work because there is little science behind it
Despite there being a lack of scientific evidence to back up the effectiveness of reflexology, there are a handful studies which have shown promising things for the alternative therapy.
One five-year-long study, spanning from 2005-2010, looked into the effects of reflexology on women with breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy.
Results found that participants who received reflexology treatments saw significant improvements (compared to the control group) in their ability to walk, carry shopping and climb stairs.
‘I would say you don’t know until you’ve tried it,’ Susan adds.
‘People are sceptical, but there’s more and more GPs believing in alternative therapies. It’s worth giving it a go.’
What is reflexology good for?
Reflexology can be helpful for treating a whole host of problems, including stress, anxiety, back pain, migraines, poor digestion, IBS, respiratory problems, asthma, headache, bladder problems, period pain and more.
Susan specialises in lymphatic drainage reflexology as well as fertility reflexology.
Speaking about the latter, Susan said: ‘It was developed by a lady called Barbara Scott. It’s been around a few years with ongoing research, and basically we [reflexologists] work alongside the menstrual cycle.’
In terms of helping with conception, not only can reflexology can help with relaxation and reducing stress, but it can also help with other elements such as hormones.
‘We may feel things, such as cysts or endometriosis. Again, we are not allowed to diagnose, but we can refer to a GP,’ Susan adds.
‘Once a person does get pregnant we can support the pregnancy as well.’
Susan says that someone who is pregnant and has polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) might have a progesterone deficiency, and there’s a risk of miscarrying due to the lack of progesterone. She says reflexology can be used to stimulate the ovaries, which produce progesterone.
‘For up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, we will do a treatment plan until the placenta takes over – to help with progesterone. Reflexology stimulates the ovaries.’
Lymphatic drainage reflexology focuses on lymphatic reflexes on the feet, and helps to stimulate the lymphatic system and the flow of the fluid – which can result in a reduction of swelling.
Susan adds: ‘People who may have had breast cancer and the lymph nodes are damaged, they can get swelling in the arm or the leg. We work on the feet for draining the fluid away.
‘We measure before and after treatment and get really good results. If it was arm, we would measure 19cm up from the nail bed and then a further 2cm and then every 4cm to the top of the arm.
‘Then we work the feet and then we re-measure after treatment to see if [swelling] has gone down.’
Who uses reflexology?
Susan’s daughter Gemma Birbeck, founder and director of Leuly Photography and PR, said: ‘When I was younger and anything was wrong, my mum, always used to say, “let me do your feet, that will help”‘
‘I was so sceptical until I finally let her do my feet when I was older. Now, I have it every week.
‘I’ve suffered from migraines for a while. When I realise I’m getting one, I book in for some reflexology treatment. She works certain reflex points on my feet and I tend not to get one after that. Sometimes, I will still have a dull headache, but nothing like the pain I experience with a migraine.
‘I also suffered painful periods after childbirth. A few years ago, she began performing a certain type of reflexology on me and now I don’t experience anywhere near as much pain.’
Lisa Phillips, a body coach and author, said: ‘I love reflexology because, not only do I find it so relaxing, but I know I am also helping my body at the same time. I used to suffer with digestive issues and the reflexology would always help.
‘A good reflexologist will be able to pin point the areas of your body that need some assistance and use their hands to clear any blockages/blocked energy.
‘When living in Singapore, I used to visit a blind reflexologist who was amazing. Within only a few minutes he would inform me where my body was struggling and I would feel fabulous once he had done his magic.
‘You may feel a little pain while he was working on the pressure points, but after a while, you just get used to it.’
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